There is no doubt that Rosannagh Scarlet Esson is a huge new talent. Sitting in her studio in Charlbury surrounded by her striking, abstract paintings – her subject matter – snow, ice, water, fire is both beautiful, haunting and ethereal.
Visceral, meaningful and powerful, her work leaves a lasting impression and simply cannot be ignored.
And yet there is no getting away from her inherent message and environmental forecast, making her work more contemporary and collectible. In short, her timing is spot on.
“I was continually drawn back to the primal forms of fire, ice, rain, gravity and water – How the natural processes can both affect a painting and drive it”
All of which is entirely coincidental in many ways, Rosannagh’s paintings developing their own natural style and form over time. The materials she uses are as paramount to Rosannagh as their subject matter; volcanic ash, dust, rain, charcoal, soot, sand and bee pollen lined up in little pots in her studio ready to demonstrate both the nuances and detail of her work.
“This pigment comes from the painted caves in France,” the 32 year-old says holding a phial up to show me, “and this volcanic ash is incredible – it gives a smooth almost pasty quality, and the bee pollen is relatively new,” she tells me. “For me it’s all about painting with natural materials and processes and having fun with it, so I paint both inside and outs. Yesterday I was painting in the rain which ran down the canvas.”
Zuleika Gallery in Woodstock spotted her talent immediately and is currently hosting her first show Alchemy there, the walls boasting 13 of Rosannagh’s incredible paintings.
But who is Rosannagh, where has she come from and how does she feel about this meteoric interest in her work?
Garnering a First Class Honours in Fine Art at Oxford Brookes where she was also awarded the Fine Art Dissertation Prize for the best critical submission in the year, it still took Rosannagh a while to hit her stride, unaware of her obvious talent for too many years.
“You can make art anywhere but conceptually 90% of it takes place in my head while I’m walking in the woods. I need to be in the countryside”
Born and bred in Charlbury, after a stint at drama school and two years wondering what to do with her life, “even though I was painting all the time,” it took a while for Rosannagh to realise she could take up art as a career. Renting an old stable block in Standlake to practise in, only then did she apply to Oxford Brooks to study art.
Spending the first year experimenting with sculpture, which had a profound affect on her current work; the materials she uses , and how they inform her paintings, for the last two years of her degree she painted as if possessed.
“all artists need to feed themselves”
“Brookes was wonderfully liberal. The teachers let me really explore different mediums so by the time I went back to painting in the second year it felt like coming home and I knew it what I was supposed to be doing,” she remembers.
Even then her distinct style was taking shape. “I was continually drawn back to the primal forms of fire, ice, rain, gravity and water, the natural processes and how they can both affect a painting and drive it,” she remembers.
But despite the accolades and prizes, it still felt like an anticlimax after Rosannagh’s final show when she had to face the real world as a wannabe artist. She began freelancing for Branch Arts in Charlbury to learn the other side of the business, “I was like a sponge” she says, “because all artists need to feed themselves”, while continuing to paint at home in Charlbury.
“This is my special place,” she says beckoning around her studio. “You can make art anywhere but I’m a country person. I need fresh air and space.
“Conceptually 90% of it takes place in my head while I’m walking in the woods looking at the moss and lichen, at the water flowing and the trees. I need to be here.”
“I suppose I’m trying to change the way people look at nature, to allow a bit of wildness into our lives, to start the conversation before it implodes”
It was only when Rosannagh entered Zuleika’s charity exhibition Art From The Heart last year that founder Lizzie Collins noticed her, bought her work and decided to launch and nurture her talent. Alchemy is the resulting exhibition which opened this week at the gallery in Woodstock.
“Lizzie came to the studio and said she really loved my work. I’m really honoured that she chose me, that she gets my work. It’s a dream come true really,” Rosannagh says.
So why Alchemy? “Because my studio makes me look like an alchemist,” she says laughing, but do you know the Robert Frost poem that goes: ‘Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice…’ it’s been rattling around in my head for years now.”
“But it’s also about trying to get people to look at nature differently and see how important it is. As a species we need to be looking at what we are doing to the planet and the environment. We have made a complete mess of things..
“I suppose I’m trying to change the way people look at nature, to allow a bit of wildness into our lives, to start the conversation before it implodes.
“So if people take away one thing from seeing my work, let it be a warning, a reminder that we need to change the way we relate to wildness. We are at a perilous crossroads as a species and need to think carefully about which route we want to take. It’s difficult to look away”.
The same could be said of Rosannagh’s art.
Zuleika Gallery is delighted to present Alchemy at 6 Park Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1SP until May 17. http://www.zuleikagallery.com